It is a wonder some vet students don’t get discouraged. I don’t mean from the grueling hours of study, the four years without sleep or the daunting specter of trying to cram 10 metric tons of knowledge into a 6-ounce brain.

No, I mean when the student first begins to realize despite all their skill, mental prowess and cow savvy, even the lowliest animal can reduce you to bumbling klutz.

Young Bruce was an enthusiastic vet student who spent his holidays and summers at Dr. Lionel’s clinic. He showed up one fine afternoon during spring break and asked Doc if he could go on call with him. Bruce was dressed in his finest and sporting a new straw hat. He was anxious to observe and assist if Doc needed it.

Off they went to check on a horse with the vague complaint of bein’ touchy about the head. They arrived at the address on the outskirts of town. The owner, a lady, explained as they walked around the back of the house they’d had the horse a month and wondered if he had an ear infection.

Standing ankle-deep in the sprouting pigweed was a scruffy little stallion. He stood 13 hands and maybe weighed 800 pounds. He was tethered on a 25-foot rope and had mowed weeds in a 50-foot circle. “He’s an Adopt-A-Horse,” she said. They’d named him Sparky.


Bruce, eager to help, untied the tether. Doc gathered his thermometer and stethoscope and stood visiting with the owner. They watched Bruce gently work his way up the rope. The horse eyed him like a prisoner watches the hangman. Just as Bruce was reaching for the halter, the stallion took a savage bite at him. His teeth locked onto the new Resistol and jerked it off his head.

Sparky reared and pawed. Bruce fell back. Sparky wheeled and raced toward the back fence. “It’s only an acre lot,” the lady said encouragingly.

Bruce caught the rope at the 20-foot mark and was catapulted to his feet. He hung on as they coursed around, between and through the truck camper up on blocks, the boat covered with blue plastic, the tilting hay pile, aluminum storage shed, old appliances, sheep wire, pile of posts and collection of ancient farm implements. Sparky was finally yanked to a halt when his rope tangled in the remains of an old pickup bed.

Bruce staggered from the boneyard streaked and tattered. He lost his glasses, and his straw hat looked like a regurgitated cud.

While Doc was prescribing a treatment she could put in the feed, the owner asked, “Since you’re here, could you put my dog to sleep?” Doc agreed and returned from his vet truck with the euthanasia solution to find Bruce, trying to regain his lost dignity, holding the dog in his arms.

The lady explained her reasons and said goodbye to the dog, then remarked, “And another thing: Every time I picked up that dog, it peed on me.”

As she spoke, Bruce felt the warmth soaking down the front of his shirt.  end mark